theatre camp

From "Camp Friends" to Friends

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I first arrived at Acting Manitou eight years ago in 2011. My best friend, Kyra Tantao, had gone to Acting Manitou the previous summer, and spent the subsequent year non stop talking about her incredible time spent here. It didn’t take long for me to realize how much of a magical, supportive, and welcoming home this was for her. I was quickly convinced that I had to come the next summer, and I spent the entire school year waiting to beccome a part of this community.

Despite almost a full year of anticipation and prep, I was still incredibly nervous about coming to camp. I was a shy fourteen year old girl who was unsure how she would break into a bunk with such deep bonds. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy. I was one of two new campers in my bunk, and I struggled to find ways to come out of my shell and connect with my cabin. It took me a while to be my true self and find my place in the bunk dynamic.

The thing about going to a small, tight knit sleep away camp like Acting Manitou is that there are few places to hide here. When you are surrounded by people 24/7, it is hard to keep your walls up. This can be vulnerable and scary at times, but ultimately it forces you to take your guard down and allow your whole self to be seen. It was only when I gave myself permission to be 100% genuine and true to myself that I finally found my place not only in the bunk, but in the camp community as a whole. When I stopped trying to “fit in” and allowed myself to be vulnerable, raw, and unguarded, I was able to form deep and meaningful friendships with the people around me.

I very quickly found my home within the cabin.

Once I opened up, I very quickly found my home within the cabin, the camp, and with a particular group of individuals who I now call family. I felt closer to this group of people who I had known for only three weeks than with some of my friends who I had known since childhood. Our bond stayed strong throughout the year; my nights were filled with late night video chats, postcards and letters were exchanged across the country, and endless texts and phone calls were made reminiscing on our joyful three weeks spent together. Our bonds grew stronger throughout my three sessions as a camper, and as I look back on that time, I am in awe of the depths of the friendships that I had formed over a mere nine weeks. While some friendships have dissipated over the years, some are stronger than ever, and no matter what, the impacts that these individuals had on me and my life are still present to this day.

Make lifelong friends…

A core tenant of the Acting Manitou mission statement is “make lifelong friends,” and as cliche as it sounds, I am so glad to say that I truly have made lifelong friends. My friends from Acting Manitou long ago ceased being “camp friends,” since our friendship has expanded past the confines of this camp. They are my best friends, my siblings, my confidantes, my support system, my cheerleaders, and my inspirations. The friendships that I have formed here are deeply representative of the four ghost-lights: I am endlessly gratefulfor Acting Manitou and for the friendships I have formed here; it is through this communitythat I was able to grow and blossom, and make these lifelong friendships; my friends bring me endless joy, and inspire and allow me to be my most authentic, creative self.

Margie Gilland, Head Counselor

Margie Gilland, Head Counselor

As I look back at the strength of my friendships with some of these individuals- now eight years later- I am so thankful that fate brought us to this magical place that we all call home. My Acting Manitou experience is intricately and inexplicably tied to my friendships here- I cannot imagine my Acting Manitou experience, both as a camper and as a staff member, without this special community that has been built.

Art? What is art?

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Yesterday, the campers left the boundaries of Acting Manitou for the Trip Day that we take every session. We started by heading to Camp Manitou – a sports-focused camp and our neighbor through the woods.

The campers had been joyfully, doggedly creating art at Acting Manitou in their shows and classes and had earned a day of respite. But that didn’t seem to stop them from diving headlong into the joys of trip day. To be clear, none of what we did at Camp Manitou – or later, at Boothbay Harbor – could be classified under the traditional categories of artistic creation as we have come to expect it here; there was no painting, no sculpting.

Arts that go beyond being a performer and further into being human.

But, though, not traditional, I saw the practice of other types of art on our day out of camp. Arts that they learn within their shows, cabins and community here. Arts that go beyond being a performer and further into being human.

The art of determination. During our trip to Camp Manitou, we got to stop by the custom-made American Ninja Warrior training course. The course features about ten different events from the classic television show. Almost everyone’s favorite event was the Warped Wall. It was the biggest obstacle by far, stretching over twenty feet in the air like a giant wooden tongue reaching toward the clear blue sky. Camper after camper attempted to scale the wall, racing up the bottom of the tongue before leaping as high as they could to reach for the ledge at its top. Many campers shot up the wall and grabbed the ledge, but were unable to throw themselves over. They hung there for minutes at a time, desperately scrabbling with their feet in an attempt to gain some purchase to push themselves up. And while campers as young as eleven were able to conquer the wall, some eventually let go and slid back to earth. But even before they hit the ground, they were breathlessly shouting about how they wanted to try again. 

The art of fun. Two nights ago, during one of our evening activities, Thanos – the antagonist of the Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – visited camp, and told us he had used the Infinity Stones to banish several staff members and CITs from this plane of existence. To save their friends and mentors, the campers had to embark on a series of six quests that challenged their bodies and minds. Most campers – especially the superhero fans among us – took to the task immediately and passionately. Many of the counselors and staff did the same, dressing up as wildly inventive heroes like Floral the Red Menace, Florida Man, and Bunny Elliot. Other campers struggled a bit more to jump into the activity; it had been a long day, followed by a long week, and many of the activities challenged the campers’ imaginations and problem solving skills. In moments where the campers struggled to keep up their spirits, I was reminded that even something as simple as having fun is a bit of an art. Our campers are surrounded by opportunities to have fun with their friends. Inundated with opportunity as they are, it can be hard to find moments to relax and recharge. Which brings me to…

The art of rest. Usually, during our daily periods of free time, there’s a fair bit of activity at camp. A few of the kids are usually down playing at the Ping-Pong tables, while others face off in the Gaga Pit. Others might be playing theater games on the Great Lawn, or chatting as they walk laps around the camp. But today, a quiet sense of calm permeated the camp. It swept down to the campers reading books next to the pool, and up to the ones basking in the sun near the Pavillion. And I was reassured that our campers have taken the time they need to recover so that they are ready, willing, and excited to face the challenges ahead as we head towards show day.

A Path to Empathy Through Dance

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At Acting Manitou we don’t set limitations on who can take certain electives- campers are encouraged to sign up for any elective that piques their interest, even if they have no prior experience. There is no audition for learning, a willingness to try is the only pre-requisite for our classes. Because of this, each class is often filled with campers of a wide array of backgrounds and skill levels and our teaching artists are skilled at, and supported in, creating curricula that allows for learning at all experience levels.

While they all varied greatly in experience and skill level, every camper in that class was working to improve by just 1%.

For the first round of electives, I had the privilege of teaching a dance class that focused on emoting and storytelling through dance. My class had a mix of students of different skill levels, some of whom have trained in ballet their whole lives, and some of whom have never once taken a dance class. It is a daunting task to create a curriculum for students with such a wide range of abilities, but the task becomes effortlessly easy when you have a group of campers who are willing to take risks, fail, and learn. Their willingness to dive into something challenging astounded me.

While they all varied greatly in experience and skill level, every camper in that class was working to improve by just 1%. I can proudly say that every camper improved over the course of the class. Some improves in their technical abilities, others in their acting and stage presence, and a large number in their ability to connect compassionately and empathetically to one another and to themselves. The energy during their elective presentation performance was electric, and they all blew me away not just from their physical execution of the movement, but in their ability to be storytellers, to connect with the audience, and to be vulnerable on stage.

Dance allows us to express ourselves in ways that are not conventionally accepted. In our society we are often told- both directly and indirectly- to stifle our emotions. We mute screams by tensing our jaw, hold back tears by shutting our eyes, and put our hands over our mouth to stop ourselves from laughing too loudly. We are expected to not show our emotions too visibly, and we have learned that some emotions and reactions must be contained and only experienced in the privacy of our own home or room. Our emotions, which are so innate and fundamental to our humanity, are often stifled and silenced.

When we dance…we allow ourselves to connect with others, to share our stories, and to be seen.

But those rules and expectations don’t apply when we dance. When we dance, we we allow those emotions to be seen and to have their place the world. We allow those emotions to flow through our muscles and take shape. We allow ourselves to connect with others, to share our stories, and to be seen. Dancing is also a means of re-engaging our mind-body connection; day in and out our minds are often racing and thinking about a multitude of things at once, but dancing allows us to bring our mind back to our body, and our body to our mind. It allows us to focus back in on our body and emotions, and to work through whatever we might be feeling that day. With dance, we enable ourselves to express whatever thoughts and emotions we are having physically. When we dance, we are storytellers; whether we are telling our own story or the story of a character, dancing allows us to convey thoughts, emotions, and narratives to an audience.

Margie Gilland,  Head Counselor

Margie Gilland,
Head Counselor

Dance means showing part of yourself; it means allowing yourself to be seen by others, and knowing that those watching are there cheering for you. The eruption of applause and roar of excitement heard after the final dance performance at elective presentations was just a small testament to the power of dance in our community. I cannot wait to continue seeing how these campers use dance and movement as a means to express their emotions, connect with others, and discover more about themselves and the world around them.

Revolutionaries and Artists

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Last year, I led a masterclass at Acting Manitou in Chance Operation using tenants affiliated with the work of John Cage, the i-Ching, and the Dadaists. In class, we gathered ingredients including pieces of text, areas on stage, gestures, and more. After that, we assigned a number to each one of those ingredients, and rolled dice to choose the ingredients until we created a piece of theatre. It was a risk but I soon found out how willing and excited the campers were to tackle art-making around randomness and the breaking down of form. They are, after-all, living in a time where the multiplicity of identity and storytelling, and the fractured way we take in information through our digital spaces is quite familiar. 

The campers in that class accessed something that peaked my interest in college and that I have been applying to my experimental theatre-making ever since. I knew that we had fun creating performances by “chance” and I did underscore my excitement around the breaking down of form and linear structures to create performance for the campers I was teaching. Apparently, my insistence on not needing a text with an Aristotelian structure stuck when I learned from one of my colleagues that his students during the school year refuted his lesson writing “well-made” plays. They issued my name, telling him that Dara would disagree and cited the playful lessons of the Dadaists. I was amazed that they held onto this lesson at camp and applied that new idea months later at school. Artists and revolutionaries in the making.

Dara Malina, Show Director

Dara Malina, Show Director

Creating art with young people is rewarding, challenging, and vital. Through art we are teaching our children valuable lessons in problem-solving, leadership, critical analysis, and how to trust their impulses. We create spaces where questioning is encouraged and necessary. We slowly build free-thinkers, individuals who can lead communities, who can question authority, and rebuild at-risk structures. At camp, we imbue our kids with a sense of agency, we support them, we create space for risk-taking, and encourage them to fight through challenges. Ultimately, they succeed because they value themselves as a necessary part of a larger community. It will be exciting to see the lessons they learn this summer, and how they apply those takeaways in the days, months, years to come.